Say, did the Cougs miss No. 92 Robert Barber?
Barber was there in spirit, one only had to look at the “92” written on everyone’s arms. But on Oregon State’s 89-yard TD run by Beaver RB Ryan Nall, spirit wasn’t enough. Washington State and its fans love the talent of Hercules Mata’afa, there’s a sense that he can do it all. But what people fail to appreciate is that Mata’afa’s job is primarily to make offensive linemen miss. Barber’s job is to let them hit him, and then not go anywhere.
As Washington State lined up on second down early in the first quarter, d-coordinator Alex Grinch dialed up an all-out blitz. The secondary was in man to man coverage and did not take its eyes off its responsibility. A late line shift moved Mata’afa head up on the OSU center, leaving only Frankie Luvu to protect the weak side. Normally, Barber would attack the center and with his mass be able to cover both A gaps.
This time, Mata’afa swims the center and is met by the Beaver right guard, getting washed down away from the run and leaving the backside A gap undefended. LB Isaac Dotson filled his gap responsibility by taking on the O-line and the safety pressure coming off the edge meant both the second and third level of defenders were out of the picture.
Eighty-nine yards later, a tough question must be asked of the Cougar secondary’s speed (although Nall is freakishly fast for his size). The bigger question, though, is how Washington State expects to defend a weak side run with only one down linemen and one linebacker.
The Oregon State left guard where the ball is designed to run behind - he didn’t even block anyone and the play was still successful. Enough said.
Special Teams rule breakers
1) Blocked PAT. Rule: Protect your inside gap while giving your outside hand as help to the man protecting your outside. One WSU player blocked down and the other blocked out. This is simply a violation of the rules on this unit.
2) Fake Punt. Rule: if the coach is going to give special teams the chance to be playmakers, then special teams must make plays. I don’t mind the aggressive nature of Mike Leach, especially when trying to spark a comeback. But Leach said after the game a massive miscommunication occurred -- he didn't want the Cougs to run a fake punt there.
So let's look at technique. The rule of ball carrying is to always have the ball in your outside hand. It keeps your body between the ball and the defender, and it allows you to use your inside hand as a tool. Kyle Sweet violated the ball carrying rule and then one-on-one in the open field, ultimately failed this special teams rule.
3) Muffed Punt. Rule: Never, Never, Never catch a punt going backwards. This is known on Day One of being a punt returner. Inexcusable and almost insurmountable. The irony is that Kaleb Folsom has been so solid back there on punt returns, a huge part of the reason he won the job and special teams coach Eric Mele has him back there is because he is the most sure-handed of the group and has earned Mele's trust that he won't make that kind of mental and physical mistake. Chalk that one up to the inexplicable.
How to beat the drop back zone?
Those floating teardrops form Luke Falk in the second half? Oddball critics wonder about arm strength when in reality the QB just realized the throw over the LB and under the safety requires a whole lot of touch.
1) Falk sees the OSU secondary drop back into Cover 2 defense. This tells Falk two things- first, the middle of the zone coverage will be softer as the safeties take wide splits. Secondly, Falk has RB Jamal Morrow coming out of the backfield and one-on-one with the MLB. Morrow stutter steps and gets the Beaver MIKE to settle his feet just enough to blow past him -- and getting the step Falk needs to drop it over the defender and into Morrow’s hands for the score. Beautiful.
2) Falk sees one-on-one between Gabe Marks and a safety (I'd like to think in a split-second he also immediately envisions the number of times these two have connected and how much he trusts his man Marks). Zone defense covers all areas with a man, but deep down the field that can be an island. Touchdown Washington State.
3) Lastly, Falk attacks the soft spot, which ends up being 8-12 yards on the sideline. In between the secondary and the linebacker responsibility, there is a cushion few can see and even fewer can place the ball into -- but River Cracraft runs a 10-yard out and catches the ball with 90 percent of his body out of bounds. And Cracraft has the presence to drag his back toes. Why, there is some space to work after all. This play was also a huge first down after the special teams blunder. They'll be showing that catch for years.
Player of the Game: Gabe Marks
In the third quarter and with momentum squarely in WSU's corner, Falk sees Marks - he's not open, but he is there. On the release Falk got the wind knocked out of him, while the ball was in the air every Cougar fan was holding their breath, and when Marks came down with a jump ball and showed he wanted it more, it took everyone’s breath away.
A breathtaking play (see what I did there?) on a totally ill-advised pass, made by a receiver who has done everything and then some to cement his status as one of the all-time Cougar greats. Marks was also responsible for a pair of toe-drag catches for first downs, finishing with 110 receiving yards and two TDs.
There was also a moment there ... seeing Marks confront teammates on the sideline with his passion to win made me miss the game, because that is an intensity only felt in the heat of battle on the gridiron.
'Atta Boy: Garrett McBroom and James Williams
- Second-and-nine from the WSU 28-yard line, the Beavers start the drive in field goal range and already lead 28-6. The next OSU score, frankly, might have been the dagger.
But Garrett McBroom sheds the right tackle’s block, and overpowers the tight end's block, to break into the Beaver backfield and drop Oregon State QB McMaryion for WSU's sole sack of the game.
This eight-yard loss knocked the Beavers out of field goal range and was truly the momentum swing the Cougars needed.
- Williams didn’t start getting many touches until the fourth quarter but when he did, he capitalized. First, he set up his blockers on a 13-yard screen. Next, he follows a double-team by right guard Eduardo Middleton and center Riley Sorenson for a run of 14 hashes.
On the very next play, Williams gets a hand off for a zone right, sees the A gap and with the safety free in the hole, spins off to freedom -- only to settle into another safety head up in the open field, and he spins again! Two unblocked defenders two spins and two broken tackles for a gain of 20 yards down to the Beaver 5-yard line.
Stat of the Game. The entire third quarter
- Yards: Cougs 235, Beavs 43
- First downs: Cougs 10, Beavs 1
- Third downs converted: Cougs 7, Beavs 0
- Score: Cougs 22, Beavs 0
Play(s) of the game: One yard stops
For a defense to surrender 24 points and almost 400 yards in a half is a rough, rough outing. But to then respond by allowing just about zilch in the second half is a credit to Grinch’s in game adjustments. And they were front and center on OSU's last real chance in the fourth quarter.
- Third-and-one with the game on the line, the Cougars shift from an over front into an under front and it's enough to confuse the Beaver offensive line. What began as a double team on nose tackle Ngalu Tapa saw the OSU guard come off on Shalom Luani as he pressed the box, and the OSU center to come off on Peyton Pelluer as he filled the gap. The confusion up front on the OSU o-line allowed Tapa to get the backfield to drop Nall for no gain.
- Fourth down and it all comes down to one yard again, and which big time players make big time plays. It starts with Mata’afa penetrating into the OSU backfield and disrupting Nall’s read. Next, Pelluer fires his gap and gets the first hit on Nall in the backfield, allowing Luani and Dotson to grab a hold of both Nall - and the ball - and bring him down. Turnover on downs. Book it.
No one should have overlooked the Beavers - in Corvallis the Beavs are a tough team to beat. Washington State was able to come back and prove they were the better team on Saturday night, solidifying a bowl bid for this season. But what will keep these Cougs rolling is 1) committing to the run game and 2) starting to take the ball away on defense again.
Just think how high Washington State has climbed since Week One ... and Week Two. Six straight wins and the Cougars are now considered one of the nation's best. Just think where WSU will finish if they continue to gel -- I don't believe anyone thinks the Cougs have played their best game yet.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jed Collins, 30, spent seven seasons in the NFL with eight teams, working his way from undrafted free agent and practice squad player to starting fullback for the New Orleans Saints and Detroit Lions. He retired after the 2015 season. From 2004-07 he was an all-everything standout at Washington State, where he played linebacker, fullback and tight end. “Jedzilla,” as Cougar fans affectionately dubbed him, earned second-team All-Pac-10 honors as a senior in 2007 after catching 52 Alex Brink passes for 512 yards. Today he is an associate with the Seattle-based wealth management firm Brighton Jones.
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